I lamented the departure of Martin Roth from the V & A and greeted the news that he is to be succeeded by Tristram Hunt with muted enthusiasm (he is, after all, not exactly nun-friendly). But the reaction of the British media has made me wonder what we really value. Is it more useful to be a Labour M.P. with little obvious likelihood of government for many years to come or Director of one of the world’s leading museums (my personal favourite among those in London, which may prejudice me)? I’d opt for being Director of the V & A, with all the opportunities it offers to conserve, educate and enthrall; but then, I suppose I’m convinced of the lasting value of culture and am rather more sceptical of the value of party politics.
I was mulling over this less than original thought when I encountered yet another barrage of pro-Trump/anti-Trump opinion on Facebook. With the Inauguration only a few days away, it is inevitable that feeling should run high. Eight years ago I was slapped down by some of this blog’s readers when I said I thought the expectations of Barack Obama were inordinately high, that he would be unable to achieve all that some hoped and others feared. It is rather the same with Donald Trump. It is easy to get caught up in the froth of public debate and lose sight of why that debate exists in the first place. We elect politicians to government in the expectation that they will govern in accordance with values to which we subscribe. Muddled thinking, short-termism and the dire ‘what’s in it for me’ approach tend to lead to strife and inequality of the most unjust kind. When we are uncertain about the values held by our leaders, we have to mine a deeper core within ourselves and find there what we truly value and wish to live by.
I know that some will misread what I’ve written as a kind of quietism, an opting-out. In fact, what I am suggesting is an opting-in. Each of us has a personal responsibility to live well — that is to say, to live with integrity and purpose. When the public expression of values seems skewed or confusing, we need to be very clear about our own position. What we choose to live by, how we express our own values, is, ultimately, our contribution to society and to the good of all — and it is a contribution each of us can and must make.